Warming down following his second place on the opening road stage of the Critérium du Dauphiné in Saint Just Saint Rambert, Julian Alaphilippe (Quick-Step Floors) momentarily breaks off from giving journalists his take on the stage to shake hands and say thanks to young team-mate James Knox for the effort the British rider has just made in chasing down the break of the day.
“We went into the stage with two options,” the 22-year-old Cumbrian tells Cycling Weekly moments later.
“We had Fabio Jakobsen if the bunch stayed together and the finish wasn’t too hard – we didn’t really know how hard it was going to be. But we knew that if it got quick on the front of the bunch towards the finish that Julian was always going to be up there and he was, so it was well worth us riding and for me to put some time in on the front.”
The Dauphiné is the kind of race where Knox’s ability as a climber will stand out in future seasons, but he says he is in “more of a supporting role” for his debut in the eight-day race.
“If you look at our team, we’ve got some strong and experienced guys, and I’ll be doing what I can to help them,” he said.
But Quick-Step are renowned for pulling surprises, and Knox admits he might get a chance of his own.
“The team rides in an aggressive way so I’m sure that there will be at least one, two and perhaps even three days when if I can get myself up the road and get into a good position, where I can fight for the victory myself.
“But I’ve got no general classification ambitions,” adds Knox, who had a string of impressive stage race results at under-23 level for Team Wiggins last season.
“I think in my first year at this level it’s a step too far. It’s nice to come in with no stress and see where the level is and just enjoy it for now. Maybe in a few years I’ll be stressing every day, worrying about the general, but for now I’ve got a team role and just want to find my legs in races like this.”
He explains his principal goal for the moment is to become more consistent. “I’ve been able to turn up to every race at a good level, I feel my form has been getting better throughout the season. I felt strong in Norway, I felt strong today when I was riding on the front, but it’s a different sort of effort doing that than fighting for the victory.”
Six months in to his professional apprenticeship with Quick-Step, Knox is very much part of the “wolfpack”, as the Belgian team’s riders have been dubbed by DS Brian Holm.
“I’m not going to lie, it’s been very enjoyable. It’s been a new experience for me having raced on small teams before to be racing on the most successful team in the pro peloton,” says the Briton.
“I’ve been part of winning Quick-Step winning 38 victories so far. Although it hasn’t been me crossing the line first, it’s still been amazing to be part of that. It’s an incredible grounding for me.”